The Book of Malachi is the last of the writings of the Minor Prophets; and with it, the Sacred Canon of the Old Testament closes. The time of his ministry appears to have been about 400 years before the coming of Christ. His great mission was to prepare the people of God for the Messiah’s appearing, and he does this by pointing expressly to the person and office of John the Baptizer. The Holy Spirit was now about to close the Old Testament Canon, and a long and dark “silent period” was to take place until that herald of light was to come as Christ’s forerunner.
The prophet Malachi was first sent to Jehovah’s people to convince them of their sin and then to comfort them; he first reproves them, and then he promises that One would come to take away their sin. This is the same method that the Holy Spirit still takes in dealing with souls (John 16:8); He first opens the wound, and then He applies the healing balm.
The Lord had taken great care and pains for His people of Israel, to engage them to Himself by His Providences and ordinances; but in light of the complaints that are here made against them, it seems that they received the grace of God in vain. They were very ungrateful to the Lord for His favors to them, and they did not render to Him again according to the benefits that they had received (verses 1-5). They were very careless and remiss in the observance of His institutions; and the priests, in particular, were so (verses 6-14). And what shall we say of those whom neither Providences nor ordinances work upon, and who affront God in those very things wherein they should honor Him?
Verses 1-5 contain the Lord’s charge of ingratitude against His people. He begins by asserting the great kindness which He had often expressed for them (verse 2): “I have loved you, saith the Lord.” Thus abruptly does the sermon begin, as if God intended – no matter what reproofs should be given them – to reconcile them to His love, and to take care that they might still have good thoughts of Him. But they questioned His love, and seemed to quarrel with Him for telling them of it: “Wherein hast thou loved us?” However, He makes it clear, beyond all contradiction, that He has loved them in a distinguishing way – which, in turn, placed them under a greater obligation to Him. For proof of this fact, He shows the difference which He had made between Jacob and Esau, and between the Israelites and the Edomites. The Edomites were stigmatized as a people who were hated by God; but in contrast, the Lord shows the Israelites that they were the monuments of His mercy (verse 5).
In the remainder of the chapter (verses 6-14), the prophet – by a special commission from God – called the priests to account, even though it was the duty of the priestly office to call the people to account. It is a severe but just reproof that Malachi here delivered against the priests. He accuses them for profaning the holy things of God with which they were entrusted. And if this was the crime of the priests, we have reason to fear that the people were also guilty of it.
What was it that God expected from the priests? We find the answer in verse 6. Children and servants pay respect to their parents and masters, and everyone cries out shame upon them if they do not; and even their own hearts reproach them, too. When the order of families is thus kept up, it is their beauty and advantage. But the priests, who were God’s children and His servants, did not fear and honor Him. They were fathers and masters to the people; and they expected to be called so (Jud. 18:19; Matt. 22:7, 10), and to be reverenced and obeyed as such. But they forgot their Father and Master in heaven, and the duty of love which they owed to Him. For example, in the matters of the sacrifices and offerings, they were so far from bringing God the best (as they ought to have done) that they actually picked out the worst that they had, which was neither fit for the market nor for their own tables; and they offered that at God’s altar.
Now every one of us ought to look upon God as our Father, and upon ourselves as His sons and daughters; and this relationship strongly obliges us to show reverence to Him. If we honor our earthly parents, how much more ought we to do so to our heavenly Father? (Heb. 12:9) It is a thing to be justly complained of and lamented, that God is so little honored in our day – even by those who acknowledge Him to be their Father.
The consideration of our constant receivings of blessings from God puts an even worse light upon our slothfulness in our returns of duty and love to Him. However, the Lord mercifully calls us to repentance for our profanings of His holy name. To the priests in Malachi’s day, this was the essential theme of the prophet’s call to reformation (verse 9): “Now, I pray you, beseech God that He will be gracious to us! Humble yourselves for your sin, and cry mightily to Him for pardon.” The Lord makes clear His resolution to secure the glory of His own name, and to reckon justly with those who profane it. If persons in one corner of the world find it to be a burdensome thing to serve and worship Him, it does not diminish His glory or greatness in the least bit; for “from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same” – in every part of the world – sacrifices of praise shall be offered to His name, nations shall be discipled, and persons everywhere shall speak of the wonderful works of God in their own native language! This, of course, was a plain prediction of that great change in the Kingdom of grace, by which the Gentiles – who had previously been strangers and foreigners – came to be fellow-citizens with the household of God. They are now just as welcome to the throne of grace as the Jews have ever been.
O Lord Jesus, we ascribe praises to You as our great King, Whose name is to be adored from sunrise to sunset, and from shore to shore! Amen.
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illustration by James Tissot, circa 1896–1902 | Wikimedia Commons